George Rutherglen

The Legacy of a Moderate



Much of the commentary celebrating the career of Justice Stevens has rightly emphasized his admirable personal characteristics: the warmth and geniality he showed to everyone he worked with, his willingness to listen and to entertain opposing views, the respect he showed to  lawyers and to his fellow judges.  All this has much to be said for it, but such a soft focus blurs the edges of his personality, his intelligence, and his contribution to the law.  He was demanding of himself and of his law clerks, competitive and insistent upon the highest standards, and willing to press an argument home against his adversaries.  Any number of attorneys can testify to the uneasy feeling that they had as Justice Stevens politely asked them a question in oral argument.  It could be about the logic of their position or the record in the case, but its ultimate import was always the same.  Framed in the most polite terms, it was, “Excuse me, counsel, could you tell me why this obvious point doesn’t cause you to lose your case?”


George Rutherglen, The Legacy of a Moderate, SCOTUSblog (May 26, 2010).

More in This Category